Teaching Neuroscience in Middle School

Sowing the Seeds of Neuroscience was funded by an NIH grant to develop, evaluate and disseminate a neuroscience education resource for middle school students focused on the neuroactive properties of plants and herbs. The resource is culturally relevant and responsive to national and state guidelines for science standards.

Research neuroscientists and classroom teachers worked collaboratively throughout the project to ensure the scientific accuracy and educational benefits of the materials. Teachers attended a summer professional development workshop where they learned to use the new resource and learned about community resources for further exploration. These teachers then borrowed kits to use with their students. In addition to the kits, the program offered a summer camp for middle school students and a web site where materials could be downloaded and data could be shared. Formative and summative evaluation was performed by an external evaluator to assess the effectiveness of each component of the new resource. Successful implementation of “Sowing the Seeds of Neuroscience” should improve student knowledge about neuroscience, provide teachers with new materials to use in the classroom, and encourage students to pursue career in science.

Because funding for Sowing the Seeds of Neuroscience has expired, we can no longer conduct the teacher workshops or summer camps.

Why study neuroscience in the K-12 classroom?

Knowledgeable students make better health decisions

The high incidence of neurological and mental illnesses in our society makes it likely that
children will encounter someone they know who has been affected by a disease or disorder
of the brain. The significant economic and emotional costs of neurological and mental
illnesses make it imperative that we all understand the implications of these disorders and
help people learn how to avoid the disorders and make better health decisions. A
knowledgeable public can make healthier lifestyle choices that will reduce the burden of
these disorders. Moreover, individuals who are science literate are more likely to support
biomedical research than those who are not informed about research and medical issues. In
this proposed study, we will develop a new, innovative resource about the neuroactive
properties of plants and herbs to educate students about neuroscience and careers in
neuroscience. The resource will be created to be culturally sensitive and relevant and
responsive to national and state guidelines for science standards.

Neurological disorders are widespread- kids should know about them
The need for neuroscience education materials is supported by the high incidence of
mental and neurological disorders in our society. Mental and behavioral disorders affect
more than one in four people at some time during their lives (Brundtland, 2001). Depressive
disorders, for example, affect almost 20.9 million people in the US alone (Society for
Neuroscience, 2008). Neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's
disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis and traumatic head injury affect millions more. By 2020, it
is estimated that neurological and mental diseases will account for 15% of the total
disability-adjusted life years lost (Funk, 2003). Education programs and public awareness
about neurological and mental health will likely reduce barriers to treatment and assist in the
care of people with these disorders. Such programs may also reduce stigma and
discrimination associated with these disorders.

Use neuroscience as a hook for STEM learning

Learning experiences prior to high school are essential to encourage students’ interest
and literacy in science and have a significant impact on students’ success in science (Tai et
al., 2006). Often, however, young students do not always have opportunities for innovative
science experiences and may become unmotivated to study science or uninterested in
pursuing science as a career. Young American students also lag behind many of their
peers in other countries; for example, compared to 15-year-old students in other
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, 15-year-old
US students are ranked only 17th in terms of scientific literacy (Fleischman, 2010). To
address these concerns, we propose a collaborative project involving scientists and
educators to develop, evaluate and disseminate a new science resource that focuses on the
neuroactive properties of plants and herbs. This new resource will be multidisciplinary in
that it will reach across a number of core subject areas including botany, physiology, social
studies, English, chemistry and technology. This approach will allow more in-depth study of
topics and will illustrate how specific concepts apply to the real world. The importance of
cultural factors, language, and beliefs to science learning and pedagogy are welldocumented
(Donovan and Bransford, 2005; Thijs and Van Den Berg, 1995; Wilson 1981;
Fenichel and Schweingruber, 2010). By creating personally and culturally relevant
activities, we expect to break down barriers to pursuing scientific learning and encourage
young students to become more fully engaged in their learning.

Core Concepts

The Core Concepts of the Neuroseeds projects are derived primarily from the society of neuroscience framework.